As our species has evolved, the limbic part is one of the oldest parts of the brain. It regulates emotions, and ‘fight or flight’ responses. It is there, in the amygdala, another one of the oldest parts of our brain, where insecurity and fear are deeply rooted.
If we don’t feel physically safe we create a stress response which is harmful to our bodies and psyche. This is best understood in post-war, or physical assault or other traumatic situations where detrimental psychological impact is clearly illustrated.
Post-traumatic stress disorders provoke a peak adrenaline response leaving long-lasting imprints in our brain circuitry. They also cause an entire array of biochemical processes disbalancing our neuroendocrinology. In other words, the chemical processes in our head become imbalanced.
Feeling at ease involves a minimum level of physical comfort.
Not having a roof over your head causes low self-esteem and deviant behaviour with young children. Children – like their parents – show more anxious behaviour and are more prone to depression as well. It also desensitises people, which is a scientific phenomenon called alexithymia.
Health, both physical and mental, is a third key component for feeling at ease.
When we lack mental health, this significantly impacts upon our bodily health. A vast array of scientific research shows the detrimental effects of negative emotions (i.e., the lack of mental health) with physical diseases such as coronary disease.
That being said, bodily health is often overrated in the perception of living a high-quality life. This is especially true with disabled people. People with disabilities consistently report a good quality of life.
Money is the only self-induced need humanity has injected into its existence. It acts as a conduit to fulfil many of our other needs to achieve a high-quality life.
A large variety of scientific research has shown that a lack of financial security causes anxiety which in turn impacts on stress levels. Debt tends to increase stress levels over a longer period of time causing depression and reduced cognitive abilities with the general audience and specifically with toddlers and students.
The lack of financial security also drives suicidal behaviour.
The need for privacy seems to be linked to our experience of insecurity for which the origins can once again be found in our limbic brain. Evolution has served us well to protect us from others.
A key component for the need for privacy is rooted in the levels of trust we have in our fellow human beings and organisations processing our information. Some evolutionary psychologists go beyond this Darwinist interpretation and state that privacy helps us to recalibrate ourselves and enables us to build valuable relationships.
Our need for freedom is complex, to say the least.
The idea of an absolute free choice, due to a large array of cognitive biases, seems to be misguided.
Biology and neuroscience also build a case against the idea of freedom: biologically, our genes impose a partially deterministic framework, best illustrated with a groundbreaking study of separated identical twins showing similar behaviour.
Neurologically, functional MRI scans have shown that our brain decides before we are consciously aware of the decision, creating an unconsciously generated “readiness potential”. The evidence is strong but not conclusive: research on “neural noise” seems to counter the mechanistic arguments in favour of free will, albeit this noise isn’t a conscious process.
Our need for freedom, therefore, requires reframing as a “conscious experience of freedom”. Interpreted in this way, research provides a more mixed need for freedom. There is a clear correlation between a lack of freedom and a low quality of life with prisoners. They go through trauma from the coercion experienced in prisons.
However, it seems that the social context for the absence of freedom is as important as freedom itself: people who cannot do anything but move their eyes (the lock-in syndrome) do not report a significant decrease in their well-being over time.